By Johnny Moore, GoDuke the Magazine
As a student at Duke University in the late 1970s John Feinstein honed his craft as a very inquisitive and relentless writer and editor for the student newspaper, The Chronicle. It was also at Duke where he discovered that getting great access to a story would give him incredible insight for his readers.
“I was covering a Duke football game for The Chronicle my junior season, at Army,” Feinstein recalled. “I was trying to find the Duke locker room to get some postgame quotes when I opened the wrong door and ended up in the back of the Army locker room.
“The captains of the Army team were talking to the team about what they needed to do as a team and as individuals to get better after losing to Duke. I thought to myself, this would be great stuff that fans would love to know if I could get this kind of access.”
He continued his pursuit of journalism following graduation with a job at The Washington Post. It was at the Post where Feinstein blossomed as a true reporter and writer, being able to dig to find insight into events and then articulating that into newspaper print, taking the reader inside the story.
In 1985, Feinstein put his reporting and writing skills to work on a book project detailing a season of the Indiana University men's basketball team and controversial coach Bob Knight. Granted almost unprecedented access to the Hoosier program,
Feinstein was able to give fans an incredible view of a big-time college basketball program in A Season On The Brink.
“First-hand reporting and behind-the-scenes reporting with access to the players and coaches make for truly great stories,” the 1977 Duke graduate explained. “You don’t make the headlines with these stories, you explain the headlines.”
That was the catalyst to an incredible book-writing career for Feinstein as he sold two million copies of A Season on the Brink and has now written 28 nonfiction books.
After writing several books covering the sport of basketball, including a book about the 1978 Duke basketball team and season titled Forever’s Team, Feinstein came out with his first golf-oriented book, the highly-acclaimed A Good Walk Spoiled.
His most recent basketball book, The Legends Club, was released in 2016 and detailed the epic rivalry between Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Jim Valvano when they were going head-to-head in ACC basketball. He has also authored 10 young adult mysteries.
With his newest book, The First Major: The Inside story of the 2016 Ryder Cup Feinstein returns the sport he has become best known for covering. Feinstein had wanted to write about the Ryder Cup for many years. In choosing the 2016 tournament he selected the absolute best time to do so. As a pinnacle event in the world of professional golf, the Ryder Cup distinguishes itself from all other major tournaments through its team organization. It is played every two years, featuring the best American golfers facing off against the top golfers from Europe.
These are athletes who normally compete against each other, but once every other year, they band together to play not for self, but for country. The crowds and enthusiasm are enormous.
Feinstein covers it all in The First Major, providing the kind of access and understanding that have characterized his sports reporting for decades. With Feinstein as the tour guide, the reader is taken inside the head of America captain Davis Love and such legendary players from both teams as Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. Feinstein explains how the team was built, selected and motivated to face a European team just as strong as ever, traveling from the club house to the tee box to provide an extraordinary account of the world’s biggest international competition.
“I always want the extra line, quote, that no one else has,” said Feinstein. “In The First Major, Brandt Snedeker told me about how Tiger was really into the Ryder Cup. I mean really into the Ryder Cup, so much that he would talk to him on the phone forever about it. He finally told Tiger that he needed to get a hobby.”
Feinstein has found that in golf, such an individual sport, the players give him all the time that he needs, and incredible access, without him having to fight coaches or get insights from teammates. The players are the ones that make things happen.
In The First Major, Feinstein gives exclusive insights into how Davis Love went about making his four captain picks and why Rickie Fowler was always a lock to make the team. Why Love and Mickelson thought Jordan Spieth’s Thursday night speech to the team was the most important moment of the week and what Jordan said that night. The ongoing battle between a handful of American fans and the Europeans that got so bad at times that the American players were upset and Rory McIlroy actually thought about going over the ropes after one fan. And Sergio Garcia’s maturation and quiet leadership in the European team room.
Golf fans have learned to love Feinstein’s books because he is trusted by the pros and thus gives inside information no other journalist can capture. His storytelling style of writing brings the reader into the team room, locker room or onto the course, giving them an understanding of events.
“My books are about people and who the people are,” said Feinstein. That’s a recipe that millions of readers have proven they truly enjoy.